When Wednesday's Capital One Cup quarter-finals roll around, you might not think there are many compelling aspects of the matchups featuring Tottenham versus West Ham and Manchester United versus Stoke City. After all, Spurs and United will both be favoured.
But look more closely, and there are some very, very intriguing storylines at play. From one team without a manager to the underdogs being bolstered by previous results in these contests this season, these games carry a bit more flavour than you might expect.
Life After Andre Villas-Boas
How will Spurs respond just days after their manager was sacked? Er, left the club by mutual consent? Er, well, you decide for yourself what happened.
Here's the press release from the team, via Sky Sports:
A Spurs statement said: 'The club can announce that agreement has been reached with head coach, Andre Villas-Boas, for the termination of his services.
The decision was by mutual consent and in the interests of all parties.'
The club later revealed technical co-ordinator Tim Sherwood and Spurs U21 coaching team of Chris Ramsey and Les Ferdinand would take charge of the first team ahead of the Capital One Cup quarter-final visit of West Ham on Wednesday night.
There's no question Spurs were struggling. They were just annihilated by Liverpool, 5-0, falling to No. 7 on the Premier League table. Villas-Boas was never able to replace the impact that Gareth Bale had on the squad last season despite adding Roberto Soldado, Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Paulinho over the summer.
With or without Villas-Boas, Tottenham have the talent to defeat West Ham. One would expect Spurs to take out some frustrations from the Liverpool loss against the Hammers. But the future direction of this club remains in question, and it will be interesting to see how they react.
Is a Capital One Cup Title More Valuable to Manchester United Than In Years Past?
United are currently eighth on the table with 25 points, putting them 10 points behind league-leading Arsenal. While a Premier League title isn't totally out of the question, it seems incredibly unlikely that David Moyes' men will be able to recover from their poor start, especially with Robin van Persie currently out to injury.
Thus, earning a Capital One Cup or FA Cup title this year will be of particular importance to United's supporters (because let's be honest—they aren't winning the Champions League this year either).
With United playing six games in the next 18 days and dealing with their fair share of injuries, it's possible that Moyes will have to rotate the squad to keep his stars fresh. But you can bet the supporters won't be thrilled with that strategy, with the prospect of earning a title in the Barclays Premier League or Champions League appearing to be slim.
Recent History Should Give the Underdogs Confidence
Both of these games are rematches from Premier League play this season, and both of the favourites really struggled in those contests.
In October, Manchester United earned a comeback win against Stoke City, 3-2, after coming back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits. With this game being played in Britannia Stadium—where Stoke have lost just once this season, albeit to United—expect the Potters to give United all they can handle.
Meanwhile, West Ham smoked Tottenham in early October, 3-0, as the Hammers scored three goals in a shocking 13-minute onslaught in the second half. And yes, that match was at White Hart Lane, so don't expect Tottenham's home advantage to guarantee they'll advance.
Don't be surprised if we see at least one upset from this pair of games.